July 04, 2011

William Kent Krueger, Northwest Angle

Thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for the review copy.

In this mystery filled with wonderful texture, Cork O'Connor and his family encounter mysterious evil forces in the aftermath of an epic storm that sweeps across the Lake of the Woods. While vacationing near the Northwest Angle in northern Minnesota, the O'Connors are caught in a fierce and destructive storm which scatters them across the lake. Jenny, Cork's daughter, washes up on a small island and discovers, in the storm's aftermath, a murdered woman and her hidden infant. This sets in motion a great chase, as unknown forces seem to be after the child. The O'Connors are eventually reuinted, but the plot only thickens as they begin to put the pieces together. The murdered woman, Lily Smalldog, worked for a reclusive band of fundamentalist Christians driven by apocalyptic visions of the End Times, and though they seemed to care for her, something doesn't seem right. Meanwhile, Lily's fugitive brother is on the loose, and Cork needs to figure out how he fits into the puzzle before more people get killed.

Krueger writes like a Tony Hillerman of the North, as Cork's Ojibwe heritage and the Native American background of the mother and baby come to play a key role in the story. He also develops a number of the characters, as each wrestles with the past, as well as trying to forge a way into the future. Jenny agonizes over her relationship with her boyfriend, Aaron, with the question of children at the center of the conflict. Cork is tring to move forward after the death of his wife, and is reluctant to be caught up in more violence. And in numerous characters, as well as in the main plotline of the book, the nature and identity of God/The Great Mystery become a key element, with the certainty of the fundamentalists and their End Times vision of God occupying one extreme, Henry Meloux and Amos Powassin, two Objiwe wise men and their vision of The Great Mystery on the other end, with Mal and Rose, Cork's brother- and sister-in law, and their Catholicism occupying a more moderate voice. Cork embodies this larger theme, with his spirituality coming "as much from the teaching of men like Henry Meloux, the old Ojibwe Mide, as it did from the text of the New Testament" (181). This honest wrestling with God's nature and purposes lends an agreeable depth and reflectiveness to the mystery genre and serves to make this a great read, both as a compelling mystery and as a work of thoughtful fiction. Though I personally may not agree with the way Cork chooses to resolve some of these themes (in what appears to be an easy syncretism between Ojibwe spirituality and Christianity), I do appreciate the authenticity of the questions and the perspectives that are being portrayed, and hope the dialogue continues in his future books.

In capturing the texture of the Lake of the Woods (I had the pleasure of reading the first half of the book while on a fishing trip there), and the people who live there, as well as building deep and interesting characters, Krueger has written a great book. I look forward to reading some of his others.

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